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Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

A gift for the governor

Why, anybody can have a brain. That's a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have! But they have one thing you haven't got - a diploma. Therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Universitatus Committeatum E Pluribus Unum, I hereby confer upon you the honorary degree of Th. D...that's Doctor of Thinkology. -- The Wizard of Oz

If I were a great and terrible wizard, or even a humbug with power and a following, I'd award new governor Scott Walker an honorary college degree. (Since we're in Oz now, we can play fast and loose with the University of Wisconsin Committee on Honorary Degrees rule that excludes elected officals.)

After all, it's for a greater good: helping Walker find his way to the home that Wisconsin might be for all of us.

Walker lacks a college degree. I don't think that's a reflection on his intelligence. After all, he's been Milwaukee County Executive for seven years and before that served in the state assembly for five terms. He ran an excellent and successful campaign. Even this Barrett supporter has to admit that Walker was far better able to articulate a compelling message.

But Walker's lack of a degree creates problems.

  • It puts him in an uncomfortable position to advocate for education, something any governor must do, and ours especially. One of Wisconsin's lingering business problems is having a somewhat less educated workforce than other states.
  • It makes him an uncomfortable model for even his own children.I suppose he's a good model for the Horatio Alger approach (hard work allows worthy youth to overcome odds), but most of us would want our kids to combine an excellent education with that same hard work. It just increases the odds.
  • Finally, I think it's at the base of his uncomfortable, ambivalent, even adversarial, relationship with the state's great but faltering public university system.


If you don't have something others value, like a degree, it's easy to say that thing really doesn't have much value. Remember the parable of the sour grapes?

I have a vested interest in this issue. My kids go to the University of Wisconsin in Madison and Milwaukee. I work for the University (though not in a union, tenured, or high-paid position). But I'd worry about maintaining higher education as one of the key parts of the prosperity puzzle anyway. The best world has great public universities AND great private ones, feeding and interacting with business, government, and all the other parts of the success puzzle.

Having a degree doesn't make people smarter. Sometimes, it does what the Wizard does, putting a mess of pudding in one's head. But doing the work of learning makes people smarter. And there are all kinds of "schools" for that, including the one Walker has attended. Still, a good liberal arts education exposes you to methods that can help you think better, ideas that give you a broader context. And it makes you fit more easily into the crowd of leaders.

Since Walker now leads all of Oz and not just the Emerald City, it would be nice to lift what very well may be an obstacle to his confidence and clear headedness. Just take the issue off the plate. After all, Oz didn't give the Tin Man, the Lion, or the Scarecrow anything that they didn't already have.

And if Madison can't do it, maybe Marquette can. . .

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